Works of authorship that are original and that are fixed in any tangible medium of expression may be protected.
U.S. Copyright law protects cartoon or "graphic characters" as visual works of authorship.
Trademark law can also be used to protect cartoon or graphic characters if they are used in association with the sale of goods or services.
Many works of authorship are subject to protection under the copyright laws including literary works; computer software; musical works; dramatic works; pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works; audiovisual works; sound recordings; and architectural works. Works of authorship that are original and that are fixed in any tangible medium of expression may be protected.
Exclusive Rights in a Copyrighted Work
The owner of the copyright interest has exclusive rights in the copyrighted work including the right to reproduce the copyrighted work, prepare derivative works, distribute copies of the work, perform the work, and display the work. Although the copyright owner is granted exclusive rights in the copyrighted work, there are limitations on those exclusive rights. The law recognizes that certain uses of copyrighted works by others should be permitted (e.g., for criticism or parody, news reporting, teaching, research, or archival purposes). Fair use limitations are applied to the use of copyrighted works by others.
The courts consider four factors when determining whether use of a copyrighted work is fair.
The factors include:
- purpose and character of the use (commercial nature or nonprofit educational);
- the nature of the copyrighted work;
- the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
- the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
Any violation of any of the exclusive rights of the copyright owner is considered an infringement of the copyright. Remedies for infringement include injunctions, impounding and disposition of infringing articles, damages and profits, and costs and attorney's fees. Although registration is not a requirement for obtaining a copyright in an original work of authorship, it is a prerequisite to infringement action in court.